The Battle of Slidell- 1870
by Judge I. D. Ferguson

Keep Ranch Fight

The Wounded Ranger: Helping a Comrade at the "Keep Ranch" Battle Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas, by A. J. Sowell

Ex-County Judge I D. Ferguson has furnished the (Record and Chronicle with the following account of an Indian fight In which he participated in the early days of this country:

In the month of February, l870, there was no such a place in Denton or Wise county as the town of Slidell. The town has come into existence subsequent to that date. It is situated on the headwaters of Hickory creek on the line of Wise and Denton counties. At the time mentioned that particular section of the country was generally known and referred to as the Hackberry Grove on account of the existence of a grove of Hackberry trees on the prairie just below the present town of Slidell. About three miles east of the Hackberry grove was a large frame building known as the Keep place, and one mile east of the Keep place was the Forester place. With the exception of the two houses mentioned not a house or fence could be seen on the grand prairie. It was an open grazing ground for bones and cattle and a man could ride all day on the grand prairie without seeing a house or fence. The principal settlements that then existed were along Clear creek In Denton county, Black creek and Hart's creek in Wise county. The range was good and numerous herds of horses and cattle grazed upon the the prairie unattended by their owners. The Indians still depredated upon the frontiers and pillaged the country for horses. In February 1870, a company of rangers, twelve in number, young men from Guadalupe county, made their appearance in Montague county. They were armed with Winchester rifles, the first Improved firearms ever brought to North Texas.


Company "F" Frontier Forces
Monthly Report*

Just at the time this little company made their appearance in Montague county a band of about fifty Indians passed down through Montague county In the night, headed in the direction of the grand prairie after horses. They stole some horses on their way down in Montague county, which apprised the citizens in the country. This little company of rangers was notified; and John Harverd, a citizen of the county, a brave scout, and good trailer, volunteered to go with the rangers and trail for them. At the time the writer was living about four miles east of Hackberry Grove at a place known as Keep’s Mill on the breaks of Clear Creek.

The rangers followed the trail of the Indians until they reached the head of Hickory creek at a point west of Hackberry Grove where the town of Slidell is now located. To more particularly locate the place is was at palace where the Slidell schoolhouse now stands. Here at this place they came on to the Indians twenty-five in number. They had killed a beef and were dismounted and sown in the ravine eating from the beef they had killed.

The rangers did not think were strong enough to fight them and sent Mr. Harverd over to Keep’s Mill to get reinforcements, promising that they would hold the Indians at bay until reinforcements could be had. Harverd came to our place about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and notified the citizens that the state rangers had a band of Indians at bay just above the Hackberry Grove and wanted all the help they could get and as soon as possible. A runner was sent down the creek for help and I got on my horse and returned with John Harverd to the rangers. When we came in sight of the rangers and Indians we were about a mile from them.

We were in a fast lope and when we got in about 500 or 600 yards of them the Indians began to move out from the ravine south up the prairie slope. The rangers mounted their horses and followed them. As we neared them, they disappeared over the brow of the prairie hill. Just as we crossed the branch where the Indians had killed the beef and started up the slope after them we heard the reports of the guns in rapid succession and saw the white smoke rise up in the air just over the brow of the ridge, and heard the yelling of the Indians, in less than a minute the rangers came in sight rapidly retreating from the Indians, coming directly and meeting us with twenty-five mounted Indians and about twenty-five or thirty Indians on foot In close pursuit. Before the rangers could get to us they were surrounded by the Indians. The boys dismounted from their horses and commenced firing with their Winchesters. The Indians were so close to them that in the shooting some Indians were burned with the powder from the rangers' guns. The first heavy volley fired from the Winchesters the Indians ran back away from the rangers to the top of the ridge, leaving four dead Indians on the ground not ten steps from where the rangers were standing. One ranger had been shot in the hip with a pistol by the Indians and this was all the injury sustained by the rangers. At the time the boys dismounted Harverd and I were about seventy-five or a hundred yards north of them and running to meet them. One Indian on a gray horse seemed to run over or through the boys coming directly meeting us in a full run. We opened fire on him and his horse ran, passing us on our right within twenty steps of us. Just as be got even with us be dropped over on the side of the horse as to screen himself from our shots, but his saddle turned with him under the horse's belly and the horse commenced kicking the Indian with both hind feet and kicked him, saddle and all clear loose and ran off. We fired several shots at the Indian and seeing that he was dead we went up the hill to the other boys; where they were still standing shooting at the Indians on the hill. The Indians stood back to get out of range of the guns and made no further effort to attack us. The young man who had been shot was suffering for water and was as pale as a corpse. We fell back down the hill to the branch where we could get some water for him and passed the Indian that we thought we had killed and examined him to settle a dispute between us and a German boy, one of the rangers, who claimed that he killed the Indian on the gray horse. He said the Indian tried to ride over him and he threw his Winchester up and jabbed the Indian in the face with the muzzle of his gun and fired, shooting him under the left eye, that he knew he shot him through the head and he could not have been alive when he reached us. When we examined the Indian we found him powder-burned under the left eye and a bullet hole in his face ranging up and passing through his brain, coming out at the top of his head. This settled the dispute; the German boy had killed him. The Indian was dead when Harvard and I commenced shooting at him. We found him tied to his saddle and that accounted to his staying on his horse so long. This was the fifth Indian killed Inside of two minutes after the boys dismounted and it terrified the Indians and kept them at a safe distance from us.

We stayed there and held them at bay until sun-down waiting for reinforcements to come, but none came and we left the battlefield, taking the wounded boy to the Keep house which was occupied by Dr. Jay. We arrived at the Keep house just after dark and found Dr. Jay himself was not at home and we had to send five miles to the little town of Bolivar to get a doctor. D. H. Hale and I made the trip and brought Dr. W. C. Bobbitt to see the young man whose name was Billy Sorrels- I never learned the name of the other boys that were in the fight as they were strangers In the country. Large reinforcements came In during the night to the Keep house and by daylight there were at least a hundred men ready to follow the Indians. When we reached the battleground next morning we found that the Indians had come and had taken away their dead and left the settlement without taking out any stock. They were badly demoralized. There was at the time of the fight at least fifty head of Crow Wright's horses at the Hackberry grove, not over one-half a mile away, from they did not try to take them.

After following the trail about mile the other side of where Slidell now is, we found the Indian that tho German boy had killed where they had left him and spread a buffalo robe over him. About three miles farther the other four Indians were found a few days afterward where they had been left in a deep ravine. We followed the trail of the Indians through Wise county until they had reached the headwaters of Big Sandy, which point we learned they had reached just before daylight the day before. Seeing that we could never overtake them we turned back toward our homes.

Whatever became of the little band of Southern Texas boys that made this gallant fight I never learned, but we learned that the Winchester rifle was the gun that we all needed on the frontiers at that time.

Many people now living at Slidell do not know that a battle with the Indians was ever fought where the town is located. Had the settlers in North Texas been armed with Winchesters instead of shotguns the Indians could not have succeeded so well and would have been defeated in nearly every engagement.

A note on the text: This version of the Ferguson account of the Battle of Slidell was transcribed by the editor from the pages of the Denton Record Chronicle ca. 1905. Another enlarged version is published in History and Reminiscences of Denton County, by Ed. F. Bates, 1918. The title of the piece I have taken from the original newspaper account. There are small differences of spelling between the two editions.
MC, 2013

*Document courtesy Dorothy Sloan- Books